He stood there for a long time, as though his legs were glued to the very spot where she had just ruined him. He could still see the sad look in her eyes and the touch of her hand on his face. It was the tenderness that killed him. It was like she pitied him.

At first he thought he might throw up. He actually wanted to throw up. But instead, he felt empty inside, hollowed out.

His next thought, a familiar one, was to end the pain. How many pills would it take to shut the pain out completely? Just make it all go away forever? In the end, would anyone really care if he lived or died?

He retrieved the pill bottle. It was hidden, but not in the wall—not the secret stash, the addict's lame contingency plan. It was hidden from her, in the tank of the toilet bowl, wrapped in plastic. He unwrapped it, slid down the floor, staring at the pills in his hand. He glanced, reflexively at the door.

He remembered how she looked that day—so beautiful to him, an angel in pink scrubs.

"I just need to know if you and I can work," she had said.

But you destroyed it, House. Like you destroy any tiny shred of grace or beauty that enters your miserable life.

She wasn't coming back.

So he went to swallow the pills. Actually brought his hand to his mouth. But a voice in his head stopped him.

This is not who she wants you to be. This is not who you want to be.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed.

#####

Wilson was on a blind date. One of the nurses had been trying to set him up with her sister-in-law for months. He repeatedly said no, but had finally caved. Cuddy's healthscare had something to do with it. He was surrounded by the sick and dying all the time, but seeing a close friend in peril had really put things in perspective. Life was too short to always say no.

Irene was an accountant: late 30s, pretty. She made jewelry that she sold on some sort of craft website as a hobby and loved mystery novels. She had a dog named Rufus, whose picture she kept in her wallet. Wilson liked her. Thought he might even muster up the nerve to kiss her goodnight.

The first time House called, Wilson put the phone on vibrate.

The second time, he simply ignored the phone as it twitched on the tabletop

The third time, he got a little worried.

"Excuse me," he said to Irene.

"House, it's a bad time," he whispered, cupping his hand over the phone. "I'm on a date."

House mumbled some words that Wilson couldn't quite make out.

"What? House, I'm in a restaurant, you need to speak up."

"Come over," House said.

There was something strange in his voice.

"Is this an emergency, House? Because our entrees just arrived."

There was a long silence.

"House?" Wilson said.

More silence, although he thought he could hear House breathing.

"House, you're scaring me. What's going on?"

The line went dead.

Wilson blanched, looked up at Irene.

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

"I'm . . . not sure," Wilson said. "That was my friend—my best friend. I think his girlfriend may've dumped him. He's an addict, prone to extreme gestures and I . . ."

"You have to go," she said.

"I feel like a jerk," he said.

"No, a jerk would stay. If it were my friend, I'd want to go, too."

"Thank you for understanding," Wilson said.

Wilson slapped some money on the table, popped up, smiled weakly at her, and left.

######

The door was ajar.

Wilson stepped in tentatively, looked around.

He found House sitting on the floor in the bathroom, staring blankly at his hand.

"House!" Wilson said. He ran toward him, knelt down.

"She's gone," House said quietly, almost to himself.

"Who? You mean Cuddy?" Wilson said. He noticed the two pills in House's hand.

"She's not coming back," House said. He seemed to be in a trance. "She's never coming back."

"Did you take anything, House?" Wilson said.

House blinked but didn't reply.

"House!" Wilson said, louder this time. "Did you take anything?"

For the first time, House looked up at his friend. His eyes were wide. He shook his head no.

Wilson sighed in relief. He took the pills out of House's hand—then took the bottle that was beside him (it was nearly full, a good sign) and pocketed them.

"I'm proud of you," he said.

Now House was staring at his empty hand.

"Calling me was the right thing to do," Wilson said. "I'm sorry I didn't pick up sooner. . . I was. . .I should have."

House didn't respond, kept balling and unballing his hand into a fist.

House's behavior was scaring Wilson a little. He hadn't seen him this out of it since that horrible day over two years ago, when he had dropped him off at Mayfield.

"Let's get you up off the floor and go sit on the couch, okay?" Wilson said, grabbing House by the elbows and practically yanking him off the floor.

Then he got two glasses, filled them with scotch, handed one to his friend.

"Tell me what happened," he said.

Moving from that spot on the floor—God knows how long he'd been sitting there—seemed to jolt House back to reality a bit. He finally seemed to know where he was.

"She found out about the pills," he said, taking a gulp.

"What pills? You told me that you didn't take any—"

"Not tonight. Last week."

"When you went to see her in the hospital," Wilson said, getting it. "You steeled yourself with vicodin."

House nodded.

"But how did she even find out?"

"I don't know. She just did. She sensed it. She assumed the worst about me. And, as usual, she was right."

"Did you tell her it was just the one time?"

"Yeah," House said, bitterly. "She was unmoved."

"I can't believe Cuddy would break up with you because of one relapse. There has to be more," Wilson said.

"It's not the pills. At least that's what she said. It's what they represent."

"What does that even mean?"

"They represent that I'm a selfish bastard," House said.

"I get it, I guess," Wilson said cautiously. "She feels like you weren't really there for her when she got sick." He was about to add, "I told you this would happen," but thought better of it.

Instead he said, "Is there any chance she'll change her mind? She was upset. Emotional. It's been an emotional week for both of you."

"She's through with me," House said. "To be honest, I'm surprised she hung on as long as she did. Did you ever really believe that a woman like her was going to stay with a guy like me?"

Wilson shook his head a little bit.

"Don't wallow in this self-loathing crap, House. I'm not playing along. You guys were great together. I saw it with my own eyes."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" House said, putting his head in his hands.

"No, it's just the truth. She's crazy to break up with you. She loves you."

"Apparently, she doesn't. At least not anymore."

"House," Wilson said, sighing, not knowing what else to say. "I'm sorry."

"You and me both," House said. He looked at Wilson sadly.

"You're a good friend, Wilson," he said. "But you can go home now. Maybe you can still catch whatshername and actually get laid for a change. I promise I'm not going to take any pills. I'm not going to hurt myself. I just want to sleep."

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather crash on your couch," Wilson said.

"Suit yourself."

House threw a blanket at his friend, then limped to the bedroom, turned out the light.

Wilson slept fitfully on the couch. He kept waking up, thinking he heard House stirring in his room.

Finally, he dozed off for good.

####

He awoke to smell of fresh coffee brewing. Thought perhaps he was dreaming it.

But no, House was in the kitchen, in a robe, pouring coffee into a mug.

"Hey," House said, nodding at him. "Wanna cup?"

"Okay," Wilson said, puzzled. "I didn't expect to see you in such good shape this morning."

"Expecting something a little more along the lines of self-destructive with a side order of suicidal?" House said.

"Yeah," Wilson admitted. "Something like that."

"Well, I'm not. In fact, I feel like a have a new lease on life," House said, almost cheerfully. He dropped two sugar cubes in Wilson's coffee and handed it to him

"You do?"

"Yes. I did a lot of thinking last night and I came to a conclusion."

"What kind of conclusion?"

"That I'm going to win her back."

To be continued. . .